Around the AFC: Grab Bowe, downgrade Schaub
What have the coaches been saying in their weekly news conferences? Tristan H. Cockcroft takes a quick-hitting look at the goings-on for each of the 16 AFC teams:
Buffalo Bills: QB J.P. Losman suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in Week 3, according to the team's official Web site. "It's a Grade 1 [sprain], so that's a couple of weeks probably," said coach Dick Jauron on Sunday. "When he came back he said he could go if needed, but as the day moves on it's just going to get worse and worse and stiffer and stiffer." The Bills won't formally announce how much time Losman will miss until Wednesday, though it's likely he'll be out until after the team's Week 6 bye, if not longer. With Losman sidelined, Trent Edwards becomes the Bills' starting QB in Weeks 4 and 5, not terrible weeks for a passer since they're home contests against the Jets and Cowboys. Still, those can be opportunistic defenses, and Edwards was only 10-for-20 passing for 97 yards (4.9 yards per attempt) and an interception in relief in Week 3. He's not a useful pickup, but his starting role is secure. QB Craig Nall, who was released at the end of training camp, was re-signed Monday to back up Edwards. Most notable for fantasy as a result of Losman's injury: WR Lee Evans, who has only five receptions for 29 yards in three games, becomes a less attractive buy-low candidate in the short term.
Miami Dolphins: Once expected to be one of the better units in the game this season, the Dolphins' defense has struggled through its first three games, ranking 20th overall (336.0 yards per game) and 26th in points per game allowed (28.0). It didn't help that MLB Zach Thomas (concussion) was sidelined in Week 3, though DE Jason Taylor, the 2006 defensive player of the year, accepts a good share of the blame. "I [stink] right now," Taylor told the New York Daily News. "It's as simple as that, so there's your headline." Still, coach Cam Cameron expressed confidence in a rebound during his Monday news conference. "I know [Taylor will] do whatever he can to get himself and our entire defense playing better," Cameron said, according to the Dolphins' Web site. Fantasy owners shouldn't trust the Dolphins' defense until it begins to show signs of improvement on the field, though with matchups against the Raiders, Texans and Browns due up next, that could happen quickly.
New England Patriots: Though the Patriots rank first in total defense (207.0 yards per game) and third in fewest points per game allowed (11.7), coach Bill Belichick during his Monday news conference addressed concerns about the unit's performance in the red zone thus far. "We have to do a better job down there," he said, according to the team's official Web site. "You can't let them in the end zone every time they cross the 20-yard line. It's ridiculous. It's a combination of bad coaching and bad playing. Hopefully we can do a better job going forward." Patriots opponents are a perfect 5-for-5 in the red zone through three games, something fantasy owners of opposing players should note. While a matchup against the Patriots is on paper a terrible one, it's the opponent's yardage total that's more likely to be held in check than his scoring potential. Owners of the Cowboys' Marion Barber, the Patriots' Week 6 opponent, for instance, should be pretty happy to hear that.
New York Jets: Thomas Jones managed his first 100-yard effort of his Jets career in Week 3, earning the praise of coach Eric Mangini. "I was pleased with Thomas Jones," said Mangini, according to the team's official Web site. "He had somewhere close to 100 yards in the second half, which is always a good second half." Mangini was off by a tad in his estimation of Jones' second half. Jones managed 92 yards on 19 carries after halftime against the Dolphins. Still, that's a rather encouraging performance, and it helps ease concerns that Jones might not yet be fully healed from his calf injury. With RB Leon Washington complementing him nicely and Jones himself back at 100 percent, Jones should roll off a few productive games the next several weeks. Keep in mind the Jets get the Bills (Weeks 4 and 8), Giants (Week 5) and Bengals (Week 7) in four of the next five weeks.
Baltimore Ravens: Coach Brian Billick revealed in his Monday news conference that he pulled Steve McNair in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game after the QB "tweaked" his groin. McNair has been limited by the injury since the regular-season opener, though Billick was confident that the injury would improve this week. However, Billick also stressed that he wouldn't be afraid to lift McNair for backup Kyle Boller in future contests, perhaps a result of McNair's so-so play recently. Boller isn't anything intriguing for fantasy owners, but he's a little better at flinging the deep ball, something fantasy owners of WRs like Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams would prefer. Keep tabs on Baltimore's quarterback situation the next couple weeks, because it'll have a profound impact on those players' numbers looking forward. TE Todd Heap suffered a mild concussion on Sunday, but is expected to play in Week 4 against the Browns. He'll be someone to monitor during practice this week, but Heap does have an extensive history of minor bumps and bruises, yet he continues to find ways to play through them.
Cincinnati Bengals: Rudi Johnson left Sunday's game in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury, though the Cincinnati Post reports there was no word late Monday on his status for Week 4. He endured a terrible game up to that point. He ran 17 times for only 9 yards on the day. Kenny Watson, meanwhile, managed 60 yards and a score on nine carries in relief. Fortunately for Johnson, the Bengals get an extra day off before their Week 4 contest; they play on Monday against the Patriots. Still, don't be shocked if Johnson sits out knowing there's another week for him to rest in Week 5, when the Bengals have their bye. Watson would start if Johnson sits, and is a worthy pickup in that event.
Cleveland Browns: Coach Romeo Crennel said in his Monday news conference that TE Kellen Winslow left the Week 3 game with a bruised shoulder. "I'll be all right," Winslow said following Sunday's contest, according to the team's Web site. The Browns expect Winslow to suit up for their Week 4 contest against the Ravens, though because that's a tricky matchup for him, his status should be monitored throughout the week. Fortunately, though, Winslow has at least four catches and 83 yards in each of his three contests, a level of consistency fantasy owners can rarely expect from a tight end. He has averaged five receptions and 90 receiving yards per game thus far, and been targeted 26 times total, a sure sign he's a favorite target of QB Derek Anderson. A healthy Winslow is clearly a trusted weekly fantasy TE at this stage.
Pittsburgh Steelers: WR Hines Ward suffered a knee injury during the third quarter of Sunday's game, though the Beaver County Times reports that an MRI taken afterward didn't reveal any damage. "Right now, it appears to be a bone bruise," said coach Mike Tomlin, according to the team's official Web site. "I'll leave it at that. Of course, there will be further tests and we'll have more information on that area later on." That Ward hasn't missed a game since 2004, and has caught a pass in a team-record 136 consecutive games, bodes well for his chances of playing in Week 4. Still, if Ward suffers a setback, Nate Washington would likely get the start in his place.
Houston Texans: The Texans were hit hard by injuries in Week 3. RB Ahman Green left early in the second quarter with a sprained left knee, though the Houston Chronicle reports that an MRI exam taken Monday revealed no damage. "It's nothing bad, just swelling," Green said. "I'm taking it one day at a time." If Green can't play in Week 4, either Samkon Gado, who managed 12 yards and a score on six carries in relief of Green on Sunday, or Ron Dayne, who was inactive with a chest injury, would get the start. Dayne is expected to be 100 percent for Week 4, so a time-share between the two could be in order if Green needs to sit out, limiting both Dayne's and Gado's fantasy appeal. WR Jacoby Jones, meanwhile, suffered a separated shoulder in his first career start on Sunday. "I thought I fell on it bad and banged it or bruised it," Jones told the Houston Chronicle. "But when I tried to move it, I could hear it. It didn't sound right. I knew something was wrong." Jones will miss two to three weeks, and with WR Andre Johnson (knee) also on the sidelines, the Texans are down to Andre Davis and Kevin Walter as their Week 4 starters. QB Matt Schaub will have his work cut out for him in the next couple games, and Texans offensive players should be downgraded as a result.
Indianapolis Colts: Perhaps the most improved aspect of the Colts this season has been their defense, particularly against the run, where they rank 14th (95.7 yards per game) after ranking dead last in the category in 2006 (173.0). "We're playing better against the run," coach Tony Dungy said during his Monday news conference, according to the team's official Web site. "I do think we're more physical." Interestingly enough, the Colts have accomplished their current ranking despite the occasional absences of LBs Freddie Keiaho and Rob Morris. Morris' (abdominal) status for Week 4 wasn't addressed on Monday, but his presence would only boost the team's defensive line. With those two, DTs Raheem Brock and Ed Johnson, and FS Bob Sanders, the Colts' defense is a vastly improved unit, even if it's not yet an elite one. That's something to keep in mind when considering opposing running backs. Facing the Colts is no longer a slam dunk matchup.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Though his numbers aren't exactly eye-popping for fantasy, QB David Garrard has done nothing but please his coach, Jack Del Rio. "What's happening now is David is gaining in confidence," said Del Rio in his Monday news conference, according to the team's official Web site. "He's always been a playmaker, with his feet and throwing the ball. He's become a little more accurate and certain of where to go with the ball." Garrard is one of only three QBs without an interception through three games -- Jeff Garcia and Chad Pennington are the others -- and he's seventh in the league in passer rating (103.8). Continue to play the matchups with Garrard, though he's seemingly a safe No. 2 option for fantasy teams at this stage. Del Rio also addressed comments by Matt Jones' agent regarding the WR's inactive status for Week 3. "My thoughts are that first and foremost my responsibility is to make decisions that are best for this football team," he said. "We're going to take the best 45 guys into each week. It's always about what's best for the football team." Jones' stock has clearly dropped, and with his agent requesting he be traded if he continues to be deactivated for games, this is a situation that could only get messier. At this stage, it might be best for both Jones and the Jaguars if he is granted a change of scenery. Fantasy owners, though, can feel free to cut him.
Tennessee Titans: QB Vince Young missed one series of Monday's contest due to wrist cramps, though coach Jeff Fisher seemed unconcerned in his postgame news conference. "He was just dehydrated and cramping, so we gave him an IV," said Fisher, according to the team's official Web site. "He came back and was fine." Young finished the game with 14-for-22 passing for 164 yards, two TDs and one interception, his most effective game as a passer so far this season. Granted, it helped that he faced a favorable matchup against the Saints' secondary, but this should be a good building block toward what so many believed might be a breakout season from him. Young was an efficient game manager and looked comfortable in the pocket, and should have his share of respectable fantasy efforts looking ahead, especially against softer defenses.
Denver Broncos: QB Jay Cutler suffered a mild ankle sprain during Sunday's game, though the team's official Web site reports that an MRI exam Monday revealed no damage. He said he should be able to practice Wednesday. "Everything's fine," Cutler said. "We've got a lot of time left. I'll take it easy these next couple of days. Maybe it'll be a little sore on Wednesday, but I should still be able to practice and get a full week in." Patrick Ramsey would presumably assume the reins if the worst happens and Cutler suffers a setback, though Ramsey's shaky history says he wouldn't be trustworthy to fantasy teams. The Denver Post also reports that Cecil Sapp was used more extensively at fullback than Mike Bell in Week 3, after the two split time in Week 2. That, as well as Selvin Young's emergence, continues to demonstrate how much Bell's stock has slipped in Denver. At this point, owners in deep leagues can feel free to let him go.
Kansas City Chiefs: With WR Eddie Kennison (partially torn hamstring) out for a second consecutive game on Sunday, rookie Dwayne Bowe stepped up with a breakout effort. As the starting flanker for a second consecutive week, Bowe hauled in another TD pass, totaling five receptions for 71 yards on the day. Coach Herm Edwards told the Kansas City Star that he considers Bowe an integral part of the offense, much like RB Larry Johnson or TE Tony Gonzalez. "I told him all week: 'Your number is going to get dialed,'" Edwards said. "He's big and he's powerful. That's why we drafted the guy. When you think you've covered him, you really haven't, because he's going to jump up and catch the ball." Expect inconsistency from Bowe in his rookie season, especially accounting for the shaky nature of the Chiefs' QB options, but he's looking as if he can help fantasy owners right now, and not simply those in keeper leagues. Edwards, incidentally, said earlier in the week he plans to shift Bowe to the "X" position after Kennison's healthy return, a sign that he views the rookie as a starter for the full season. Pick Bowe up if he's available.
Oakland Raiders: The Raiders added rookie QB JaMarcus Russell to their 53-man roster on Monday, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. With the team releasing CB Duane Starks, the Raiders now have four quarterbacks on their roster, a surprise considering most expected the team to cut QB Andrew Walter instead. That could be an indication that the injury to Josh McCown's left foot, which forced him from the Week 3 contest, could be a bigger deal than the team is letting on. Coach Lane Kiffin said during his Monday news conference that other teams are interested in acquiring a QB -- perhaps Walter -- and that the team wouldn't carry four QBs for long. Kiffin offered no further update on McCown's status on Monday, though he should know more on Wednesday. If McCown can't play, Daunte Culpepper, who completed eight of 14 passes for 118 yards in relief on Sunday, would get the start in Week 4. Neither is much of a fantasy option, though.
San Diego Chargers: Among the Chargers' problems in compiling a 1-2 record in their first three games has been the lackluster performance of their running game. "There's no question we need to run the football," said coach Norv Turner during his Monday news conference, according to the team's Web site. "That's what this team has been built around: the runner. We need to continue to get back to running the football the way we are capable of running it." Unfortunately for RB LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers have faced a good share of eight-man fronts, as opponents key on shutting him down coming off his record-setting 2006 campaign. "We need to get him in space and the variety of screen-type plays and swings," Turner said. "Getting the ball thrown to him quick certainly will help him." Tomlinson's owners hardly need to be told to be patient with him, but as he's the focus of increased defensive attention, expecting him to be a two-TD-per-game performer is asking too much this season. Expect the Chargers to get things straightened out, with Tomlinson still capable of 20-plus TDs and better than 100 yards per game the rest of the year.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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